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The film's working titles were Gentle People and Danger Harbor. In the Irwin Shaw play, the two main characters actually murder "Goff" and remain unapprehended. Before Warner Bros. purchased the Shaw play, both Columbia and Paramount expressed interest in making a film of the play. In a letter dated January 12, 1939 from MPPA head Joseph I. Breen to Columbia Pictures production head Harry Cohn included in the MPPA/PCA file on the film, Breen objected to: "1. Sympathy created for murderers. 2. The murderers go unpunished. 3. The courts are ridiculed. 4. Stella's possible illicit relationship with Goff is discussed in detail. 5. Clear portrayal of Jonah as a Jew. 6. Brutality. 7. Leftist political attitude toward capitalism."
News items in Hollywood Reporter add the following information: Lee Katz was made assistant director when Chuck Hansen was promoted to unit manager. Ann Sheridan was originally cast as "Stella;" Louis Hayward was considered for the part of "Harold Goff" and Humphrey Bogart was to have second choice if Hayward turned it down. According to a studio memo reprinted in a modern source, Ida Lupino refused to act with Bogart after his alleged mistreatment of her on the 1941 Warner Bros. film High Sierra.